Sunday, 30 November 2014

Fol-de-rol

I think I've finally worked out who UKIP really are.  They're the Typical Internet Troll Speech party.  Let's take a couple of examples.

This week UKIP's Scotland chairman, one Misty Thackeray (How troll-name is that? And I'm not making it up either), launched an attack on the new Scottish daily paper, the National. He accused the paper of being 'slavishly pro-SNP', thus demonstrating he hadn't actually read it, since it explicitly stated on Monday that it intends to hold the SNP party to account in the same way as all the others, even though the paper is pro-independence.  Mr Thackeray then further compared Yes supporters to fascist street thugs of the 1930s, compared Nicola Sturgeon's tour to the Nuremberg rallies and went on to describe the National as 'McPravda'.  Slightly cliched mixed metaphors there, but the gist is clear.  So far, so standard troll.

Then we had David Coburn, Scotland's one UKIP MEP declaring that, if UKIP hold the balance of power after the general election, they would ensure that the Smith Commission proposals were ignored and a new constitutional agreement put in place which would include Scotland.  Clearly he has spent a lot of time day-dreaming about this, but you've got to find something to do when you're an MEP who refuses to actually do any work on the grounds that their party rejects the EU and all it stands for.  Happy to take the salary though.

Now that we know they are not UKIP but TITS, we can do the right thing and ignore them until they go back under their bridge.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Just stop it

Today Gordon Brown well raise himself up on his hind legs to give a speech to an audience of Labour councillors (does he ever give speeches to non-Labour party members I wonder?).  In this speech he will say that
politicians in Scotland must stop obsessing about constitutional change and focus on improving people's lives
He will also be saying that Labour are the only party who can tackle inequality while defending Scotland's place in the Union.

Of Glasgow's 7 MPs, 6 are currently from the Labour party.  Given that Glasgow as a whole voted Yes, you'd have to think that those MPs might be feeling a tad insecure about the next general election.  Hence Gordzilla is wheeled in to rally the troops, a bit of an irony given that's it's widely known that he himself is stepping down at the next election.  So much for fighting for those extra powers, eh Gordon?

The problem for Labour is that the SNP are now to the left of them and are a real electoral threat in May.  Nicola Sturgeon's speech outlining the Scottish Government's legislative programme for the coming year contained some interesting proposals (eg on land reform) and was widely seen as being several steps in the right direction.  She has also committed to using whatever powers the Scottish Government has to improve the lives of everyone in Scotland.  Point two of Gordon's theme is therefore already being addressed.

Thus, the only differentiator that Labour has is that it is a Unionist party, which gives it something of a dichotomy when addressing the Scottish electorate, given that a large percentage of them (and growing, if the polls are to be believed) are in favour of independence.  Falling back on the rhetoric of 'pooling and sharing' really isn't going to play well with that section of the electorate.

As for 'obsessing about constitutional change', I assume he means 'pursuing independence for Scotland'.  If so, why would the SNP, a party founded on the pursuit of Scottish Independence, give that up?  It's not as if they can't both pursue independence AND try to improve people's lives.  Or maybe it's Labour who can only do one thing at a time?

All this 'you lost, get over it, move on' stuff is really a giveaway that the traditional political parties were given the biggest fright of their lives by the referendum, to the point where they are terrified of another one.  After all, they didn't win this one by a huge margin, so the outcome of the next one is in no way guaranteed to be the one they want.  But however, much they hate it, constitutional change is coming, it's really becoming just a question of when.

You're not welcome

David Cameron, it would appear, has been forced by Angela Merkel to step back from his wish to place a cap on the number of immigrants from the EU to Britain.  He is now therefore talking of draconian measures such as deporting immigrants if they haven't managed to find a job within 6 weeks and to deny them access to in-work benefits (eg tax credits) and social housing for 4 years.  If an employer did similar things there would be a good case for the employee to sue for constructive dismissal.

He's clearly doing this to try and win back UKIP voters, but, as usual, it's soundbite politics that clearly haven't been thought through.

Firstly, if such measures were brought in, it's not hard to imagine that the other EU countries might bring in similar laws applying to UK citizens.  As ever with Tory propaganda, there's an underlying assumption that UK citizens are somehow different from any other EU citizen, and are therefore to be welcomed wherever they go.

Secondly, many of the EU immigrants who come to the UK are taking up jobs that UK citizens won't do, often because the pay is extremely low and the working conditions atrocious.  So, of course, the only way that people can survive is to claim benefits such as working tax credits to bring their income to a basic minimum level.  If such benefits are to be removed, it's likely the jobs won't be done. 

All-in-all, EU migrants are going to be made to feel about as welcome as  a tarantula at an arachnophobes convention.

It is, of course, a scandal that jobs with such pay and conditions exist, and that must be tackled, although it's not likely to be done by a government full of millionaires.  Their thought process is something like 'I am a millionaire, I got there by my own hard work, so these people are clearly just not trying'.  This mindset even exists in people who come from rich families, who didn't earn that money themselves and who were given every advantage that money could buy when growing up.

The Smith Commission report does not contain any real discussion of new powers over immigration for the Scottish Government, so the assumption has to be that this is (yet another) matter that is reserved to Westminster.  This is something I think the Scottish Government should press for.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Lord Smith reports 4 - Financial responsibility

Now a consideration of the third section of the Smith Commission report, which covers strengthening the financial responsibility of the Scottish Parliament.

Not really much new to say on this that hasn't been covered extensively by the mainstreeam media and many of the pro-indy media as well.  Basically the Scottish Parliament gets to control income tax rates and bands, but only for earned income.  The actual money will still be collected by HMRC and will be remitted to the Scottish Government, concomitant with a reduction in the block grant for that amount.

We will also get part of the VAT receipts from Scotland returned to us.  Why part I wonder?  It would be better to assign all of the Scottish VAT receipts to Scotland surely? Most other taxes remain reserved to Westminster, meaning that most of Scotland's income from its resources will still be swallowed up by Westminster.

Throughout the document it is stated that the Scottish Government will be expected to pay any additional costs caused by the devolution of powers.  There is also this lovely little sting in the tail:
The UK Parliament would continue to have a reserved power to levy an addtional UK-wide tax if it felt it was in the UK national interest.
There's no mention, however, of the Scottish Parliament being consulted if this was the case.  So, hypothetically, if Westminster decided on another military adventure and needed cash for this, they can impose a UK-wide tax to pay for it and as far as I can see, we don't get a say in it.  Nice.

So, to sum up, this report is woefully short of the Devo-Max/home rule that voters were promised at the end of the referendum campaign, and does not represent any meaningful transfer of power.  Neverthless, it's still regarded as a step too far by some of the UK political parties, who are already raising questions about some aspects.

Summing up in one sentence?  All fur coat and nae knickers.

Lord Smith reports 3 - Economy and social justice

On to section 2 of the Smith Commission report - Economy and Social Justice.

Really we can sum this up in one sentence - almost everything is reserved to Westminster, other than a few minor powers,  So, more tinkering at the edges then.  More window-dressing.  I also note that for most of the minor powers that have been devolved, the cost of these is to be met by the Scottish Government.  Whether this will cost us more that it currently does remains to be seen.

There was one new power that was interesting in this and that was paragraph 65, which says:
The power will be devolved to the Scottish Government to allow public operators to bid for rail franchises funded and specified by Scottish Ministers.
 But, of course, the franchise has just been awarded to Abiello, so it'll be at least five years before we could possibly benefit from this, maybe even 10.  That's a very long time in politics.

There are possibly plans to devolve powers over abortion limits and new reproductive technologies, but apparently this needs to be further discussed.  Not sure why.  Maybe they're afraid we'll be genetically engineering the new independence-minded Scottish race?  I can see how that might be scary to the Westminster elite.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Lord Smith reports 2 - Constitutional Settlement

I've now had a chance to read the actual Smith Commission report.

There are three main 'pillars' in the heads of agreement:
1. Constitutional settlement for the governance of Scotland
2. Economy and social justice
3. Financial responsibility

Let's take a look at the first of these.

1. Constitutional settlement for the governance of Scotland

Glad to see a statement that 'It is agreed that nothing in this report prevents Scotland becoming an independent country in the future should the people of Scotland so choose'.  I did wonder if they would put something in about the 'settled will of the Scottish people' having been expressed, thus preventing further referendums.

The Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament are to be made permanent under UK legislation and the Sewel convention (ie that Westminster will not pass legislation affecting Scotland on devolved matters) will be respected.  This sounds great, but anything that is the result of UK legislation is reversible, since no UK parliament is bound by agreements made by their predecessors.  I don't think we can take this to mean our parliament can never be abolished.

The Scottish Government will have control over Scottish parliamentary and local authority elections, but will not have control over political parties, for example in terms of donations.  Evidently our imperial masters will brook no interference with their branch offices.  The Scottish Government will also not be allowed to hold general elections for the Scottish parliament on the same day as UK, European or local council elections.  Not sure what difference that makes - maybe someone can enlighten me?

The Scottish Parliament will have powers over the number of MSPs (constituency and list) and over the franchise, but any such legislation must be passed by a super-majority of two-thirds of the Scottish Parliament.  This is intended, I think, to prevent any real change to these things as they are now.  However, that could get interesting depending on the results of the 2016 elections, especially if the SNP retain their current levels of electoral popularity.

The report goes on to outline greater co-operation between the Scottish and UK governments, and outlines proposals for Scottish ministers to be consulted on European matters prior to policy decisions being made, for example.  This is all very well on paper, but I suspect that for all the fine words it will be very much business as usual, with Westminster dominating proceedings and ignoring anything it doesn't like or which doesn't fit with the policies it wants to pursue.

There are several paragraphs on the management of the Crown Estates, which are to be devolved in the first instance to Scottish Government control, and, where desired, further devolved to local authority control.  As the Crown Estates includes the North Sea oil reserves, this is quite interesting, especially as this control is given subject to the caveat that it is not detrimental to the wider UK interests.  It doesn't specify what these are in any detail nor what would happen if the UK government felt these interests were being encroached upon.

Finally the Scottish Government gets a consultative role on broadcasting, mail and telecommunications, transport, energy and renewables.  There are no new powers devolved, however, so this is pretty much useless.

So, this seems pretty much a damp squib.  Some tinkering at the edges and some fine sentiments expressed, but not really the major powers we were promised.

Next up, I will take a look at the Economy and Social Justice section.




Lord Smith reports

Today we are due to receive a report on the heads of agreement from the Smith Commission on new powers for the Scottish government.  It seems to be the worst kept secret ever, since the results have been coming out in dribs and drabs all week, and last night the Guardian had a full article on it.  More comment to come on this once I've read the report for myself.

Meanwhile, it appears that Scottish Labour is in despair...

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Spycatchers

One of the major stories today was the finding of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC) that an internet company, widely identified as Facebook, was partly to blame for the death of Lee Rigby because it did not report a conversation held by one of his killers and a known terrorist leader during which Michael Adebowale (one of the murderers) was said to have stated 'We should kill a soldier'.  On this basis, new powers are being proposed in the name of prevention of terrorism.

Yet again out fearless leaders display their complete ignorance of how the internet works.

Point one: millions of conversations take place on Facebook every day.  Monitoring every single one of them would be impossible, leaving aside the fact that it would be a gross breach of privacy in any case.  It's is believed that Facebook does have some sort of keyword search of conversations, although not many details are known about this.  Evidently, if this is so, the conversation containing the phrase above did not trigger an alert.

Point two: I'd imagine a phrase along the lines of 'I'm going to kill...' isn't that uncommon on Facebook.  'He forgot our 6 month anniversary, I'm going to kill him when I see him'.  'I really hate Martians, I think we should kill them all.'  In 99,.9% of cases when people say they are going to kill someone, it's hyperbole or an attempt to impress someone, and the threat will never transform into reality.  With 20-20 hindsight, it's easy to see how Michael Adebowale was making a real threat, but at the time it could just as easily have been bravado.  If Facebook had to report all threats to kill, the security services would quickly be overwhelmed.

Point three: The threat itself was very vague.  'We should kill a soldier'.  No more detail than that has emerged.  What would MI6 be expected to do with this information?  It's not against a specific individual and has no reference to time and place.

Point four: it would be hard to prove that it was Michael Adebowale who made that threat.  I'm not disputing that his account was used, but there is no way of proving that he actually had that conversation.  Another example of this appeared today, when Rachel Johnston, sister of Boris, had to apologise for apparently calling David Cameron an 'egg-faced cunt' on Twitter.  She claims her Twitter account was hacked.  It's much more likely that she left a phone/tablet/laptop lying unattended with her Twitter account logged in, and some prankster friend decided to take advantage of it.

All-in-all, this is a knee-jerk reaction, leading to soundbite politics to make it appear as if the government is taking a stand against the forces of terrorism.  Of course, we wouldn't be under threat of jihadist terrorism if our government hadn't decided to indulge in illegal wars, but you won't hear that mentioned.

We need to be vigilant and take a stand against any further invasion of our right to privacy, and the government needs to learn that it can't intrude into every aspect of our lives.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Taxing matters

The first details of the agreements made within the Smith Commission appeared today, and it would appear that Labour has dropped its opposition to devolving all income tax raising powers to the Scottish Government.  This has evidently been done with gritted teeth, as many of their 'big beasts' are opposed to it.  The main grounds for objection seem to be that this reduces the power of the Westminster Chancellor, will lead to Scottish MPs having diminished power in Westminster and that it is a Trojan horse for full fiscal autonomy, leading ultimately to the breakup of the UK.

They're almost certainly not wrong in their conclusions, but they are the party with the most to lose with the breakup of the UK, due to their traditional reliance on Scottish MPs.  So why have they agreed to this?  Mainly because they are panicked at the recent polls showing record levels of support for the SNP and falling support for Labour in Scotland.  This reeks of 'let's offer the Jocks anything they want and maybe they'll go back to voting for us again'.  The end result merely makes them look opportunistic, which I fear is not going to make them any more electable.

The Smith Commission report is due on Thursday.  It will be interesting to see what other areas of compromise there have been.

Monday, 24 November 2014

The National

Managed to get hold of a copy of the new daily paper, The National, this morning.  No easy task, since Sainsburys were having a problem with the barcode for it and as a result were reluctant to sell it to me, as apparently their policy is not to sell the item if the barcode isn't recognised.  However, some firm insistence with customer services, and I purchased my copy as they removed all the others from the shelves.  This was at 8 o'clock this morning, and a friend tells me that he was in Sainsburys about half-an-hour ago and there were copies back on the shelf, so I'm hoping this means they have the issue resolved.  Meantime we called the number to report the issue (0141 302 7300) and managed to sort out an online subscription as well.

First impressions are that it's very similar in style to the Sunday Herald, starting with Scottish news, moving on to UK and then world news.  There is also a business section and a sports section. These contained an interesting mix of stories, along with some opinion pieces.  None of the big names from the Sunday Herald appear to have contributed, but this may change over time.  No letters section today, but they intend there to be one from tomorrow onwards.

All-in-all I thought it was a decent paper, with some depth to it and not filled with entertainment and celebrity-related non-stories.  I will certainly be reading it for the rest of the pilot run this week, and I would recommend it if you haven't made up your mind to buy it yet.

Oh, and a cryptic crossword would be nice :)


Smart moves...and some not so smart

In a bold move Christine Grahame, MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, has offered to stand as a candidate for Berwick-upon-Tweed at the General Election in May.  The thinking behind this move is that if she does so, the SNP would then be standing in constituencies in both Scotland and England and would therefore have a UK presence electorally speaking.  This should then entitle Nicola Sturgeon to participate in TV debates with the other parties, since the excuse currently used to exclude her is that the SNP is not a UK-wide party.  I'm not so sure that it will work, as strict adherence to the rules doesn't appear to be the forte of the current broadcast media, but it's nevertheless worth a try.

Meanwhile, over at the Labour leadership election, there is a report that the voting of Labour MPs and MSPs will be made public by Scottish Labour, so that we will be told which of the leadership candidates each person voted for.  They are doing this, apparently, 'to encourage transparency'.  This strikes me as disingenuous at best and a slippery slope at worst.  I cannot think of any reason that this would be useful, other than to try and force MPs and MSPs to vote for the 'right' candidate.  It's certainly a violation of the principle of the right to a free vote in a secret ballot, the very foundation of any democracy.  I hope this is not a sign of Labour in Scotland's future direction, although they have been showing some authoritarian tendencies in the recent past, mainly in order to win votes in 'swing' constituencies.  Really not a smart move by Scottish Labour.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Exit, stage left?

I have now seen from two sources (Sky News and the Sunday Herald) that Gordon Brown will be stepping down as an MP at the next General Election.  Interesting timing on this story.  It surfaces on the day that the SNP were holding a rally at the Hydro (full to capacity) and RIC were holding their conference (also full to capacity) and in the week that the Smith Commission is due to present its preliminary report (Thursday), the latter being something that Mr Brown staked his political reputation on with promises of near-federalism.  Watch this space...


A house divided against itself

The meltdown in the Labour party appears to have now spread to the London branch.  This time the bone of contention is a tweet made by Emily Thornberry of a picture of a house in Strood draped in St George's cross flags and with a white van parked outside.  She has provoked considerable protest over this tweet, which has been described as 'snobby'.

Ms Thornberry herself subsequently removed the tweet and has apologised for any offence caused, saying that she didn't intend to do so.  Quite what she did intend to do is open to question.  Her major mistake, however, was to forget that her tweet was made to the public at large and not just to whatever audience she thought would see it.

Her resignation has been met with some puzzlement outside the UK, where people can't understand what's so bad about tweeting a picture of a house covered in the national flag of England.  Really it's all about class.  It's about someone perceived as middle class poking fun at the working classes.  Most other countries are not cursed with a class hierarchy, hence the lack of comprehension outside the UK.

Ms Thornberry herself was brought up in a council house, so evidently started her life as part of the working class.  Having become an MP she will now be perceived as part of the upper middle classes.  I understand that Ms Thornberry likes to post pictures of buildings in the UK on her twitter feed, and one could charitably assume that she simply saw the house, thought it was interesting and posted a picture.  However, this does bring into question her political judgement, given that this was on the day of the Rochester-Strood by-election.

The real damage for Labour is that people have interpreted the tweet as showing how out-of-touch the metropolitan elite are with ordinary people.  Personally I have no problem with people flying flags from their house.  I myself have two saltires up at the front and back of my house.  If English people want to fly their national flag, they have every right to do so.  The Labour party, however, have a real problem with this.  For the middle classes nationalism of any kind is something to be embarrassed about.

As we saw in the referendum, the Labour party are great believers in the union, and decried Scottish nationalism as a bad thing.  They want to see class solidarity throughout the UK.  And now they appear to have an MP who practises class solidarity, the kind that is amused by the 'little people' and their quaint nationalism.

If the Labour party is to survive, it needs to go away and have a think about itself.  It needs to decide what it's for and who it represents.  Until it does this, it will continue to have these internecine wars, much to the detriment of its chances of being elected.


Saturday, 22 November 2014

New media dawn

Monday sees the launch of a new daily newspaper, the National.  it comes from the same stable as the Sunday Herald and will be reporting from a pro-independence standpoint.  There has been some sneering about the publishers of the Sunday Herald cynically jumping on the bandwagon of independence and exploiting a gap in the market.  This is quite possibly the case.  Nevertheless, I think it will do well, as there are currently no other daily papers operating from this standpoint, and I think there are still large numbers of people who like a daily physical newspaper rather than just reading the news online.  The first run will be of 50,000 copies, so it may be hard to get on Monday.  I shall certainly be trying to get hold of one.

This week also saw a taster from the team who will be producing The Scottish Evening News, which will be a broadcast news bulletin tackling major news stories from a Scottish perspective.  This first taster was on the subject of TTIP.  It was an interesting watch, although fans of Dateline Scotland may have trouble at first, as you keep expecting a joke.  The channel is due to launch in spring 2015, and on the evidence of this first taster, it will be worth waiting for.  You can support the project here.  All funds raised will be used to keep the project free of shareholder control or advertising.


Friday, 21 November 2014

50-50

Today saw the announcement of Nicola Sturgeon's new Scottish cabinet.  For the first time, the cabinet has an equal divide between the genders, 50% female and 50% male.  Ms Sturgeon said that this demonstrates the Scottish government's commitment to equality and gender balance, and it certainly sets a great example.

Labour's spokesperson, Jackie Baillie, offered her congratulations and welcomed the fact that there was a 50-50 split between the genders.  She then promptly made it all about Labour by demanding that the new cabinet begin supporting Labour policies on social justice in order to tackle the problems the previous cabinet have left behind, as if Labour's policies are the only possible solutions.  Indeed some might say that some of their policies when last in office were the cause of some of the problems.  Labour, of course, could have gone 50-50 on these when they were last in office.  They did not.  When (if) they are next in power, they could even try phoning a friend.   Sadly they have precious few of those left in Scotland.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

A piece of history

With her election as Scotland's First Minister yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon made a little bit of Scottish history by being the first woman to hold the post.  It's a job she has worked towards all her life, and I look forward to seeing what she will do.

She had a rival candidate in Ruth Davidson, who stood as a Unionist candidate against her.  The votes were cast as follows:
Nicola Sturgeon 66
Ruth Davidson 15
Abstentions 39

The current make-up of the Scottish Parliament is as follows:
SNP 64
Labour 38
Conservatives 15
Liberal Democrats 5
Scottish Greens 2
Independent 3
No party affiliation 1

I would guess that the SNP and Scottish Greens voted for Nicola Sturgeon, while the Conservatives voted for Ruth Davidson, meaning that the Labour MSPs pretty much abstained en masse.  My, those groups are sour.

Speaking of which, Kezia Dugdale wrote a column in the Daily Record filled with bile and spite, entitled 'Queen Nicola Sturgeon must put people before her party'.  Now I could be wrong, but do I detect a slight hint of jealousy here?  There are comparisons to Margaret Thatcher and demands for Ms Sturgeon to implement policies that the Parliament she leads does not have the power to do.  Ms Dugdale is apparently one of the bright young things in the Labour party in Scotland, in which case I can only pity them for the lack of talent in their ranks if this is the best they've got to offer.

Ms Sturgeon herself hopes that her success will inspire other girls and young women by example, showing them that anything is possible if you have the talent and determination to make it happen.  Time will tell on that score, but it's certainly a positive thing for them to see.

We saw during the referendum that Ms Sturgeon is no shrinking violet and will not be a pushover for her opponents.  This can only be good for Scotland generally, whether in seeking more powers for Holyrood or, when the time is right, independence.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Coming to a manifesto near you

Survation have just released the results of a survey on behalf of Progressive Polling which asked 1002 SNP voters what policies would be more likely to make them vote Labour.  The respondents were people resident in Scotland aged 16 or over who had declared an intention within the last year to vote for SNP at the next General Election or Scottish General Election.  The headline results were
  • A policy of a mandatory living wage would make 37% more likely to vote Labour

  • A commitment to permanently abolishing tuition fees for university education in Scotland would make 30% more likely to vote Labour

  • Promising to decommission the Trident nuclear weapons system would make 30% more likely to vote Labour

  • A policy to re-nationalise Scottish rail services would make 27% more likely to vote Labour

  • Promising free nursery places for children from the age of 12 months would make 21% more likely to vote Labour

Let's take a look at these policies.

Decommissioning of Trident
A bone of contention within the Labour party in Scotland.  Neil Findlay this week talked of his intention to get rid of Trident, which was fine until it was pointed that Ed Milliband is in favour of retaining it and would therefore overrule this.  Jim Murphy is known to be in favour of retaining it, while Sarah Boyack is supports a similar position to Neil Findlay.
Verdict: highly unlikely to be on the Labour manifesto.

Mandatory living wage
The Scottish government are currently paying all staff working directly for them the living wage.  However, a proposal by Labour to ensure that paying the living wage be made a condition of all public sector contracts was defeated, citing concerns that this would breach EU law and leave public bodies open to legal action.  The Scottish government did agree that companies bidding for public sector contracts should be assessed on their willingness to pay a living wage.
Verdict: A possible area of weakness for the SNP, so a good candidate to be on the Labour manifesto

Permanent abolition of tuition fees
Scottish students currently pay no tuition fees, and Nicola Sturgeon has declared that she will never support bringing them in.  Labour's policy in Scotland was, until recently, that free tuition was not economically viable and tended to favour the economically privileged.  However, Kezia Dugdale is apparently hopeful that Labour can change their 'direction of travel' on this one, providing that there is 'sufficient funding was also available to widen access and to reduce the student drop-out rate in the country'.
Verdict: A possibility for the Labour manifesto, depending on the outcome of the leadership election

Re-nationalise the Scottish rail services
This surfaced over the recent award of the franchise held by ScotRail to the Dutch company Abellio.  To be fair to the Scottish government, they don't have a choice on this, as the 1993 Railways Act specifically rules out awarding the franchise to any company directly owned by the UK taxpayer.  This would therefore require the Labour party to promise to amend the law at UK level to allow this.  I suspect this wouldn't play well with the shareholders in the Home Counties, whose preferences seem to play a large part in Labour's policies.
Verdict: Probably not a candidate for the Labour manifesto

Free nursery places for children from 12 months
The most recent statement I can find on this was a speech by Johann Lamont in early October in which she ruled out making all childcare free, although she did announce plans to make it more affordable by capping the cost and offering free childcare for women who want to go to college to gain job-related skills.  Kezia Dugdale's name pops up again in relation to a visit to Finland to see their system of childcare, which apparently enthused her.  The policy could, of course, change depending on the outcome of the leadership election.
Verdict: Something around childcare likely to be included, but unlikely to be quite this radical.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, influence this has as we get closer to the General Election.

(The underlying data tables for the survey can be found here)

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

What's in a name?

Today's politicians are trained to work with the media, and draw on a range of standard techniques when being interviewed.  Andrew Marr outlines some of the techniques he uses in this article, where he also explains some of the techniques politicians use too.

One thing that they all do is address the interviewer by their first name, while interviewers generally address the politician themselves more formally, eg Mr Smith or Ms Brown.  At it's basic level, this emphasises the power differential between the two.  It's reminiscent of the school classroom, where pupils are addressed by their first name, while the teacher is addresses by their formal title.

Personally I find the use of the the interviewer's first name quite jarring, especially on the radio.  I also find that politicians tend to overdo it.  Yesterday's interview with Neil Findlay on Good Morning Scotland provides an example of this.

Mr Findlay appears to have attended the same school of interviewing as Johann Lamont.  Why is that that Labour politicians seem unable to think through what they're saying to its logical conclusion?  They come along with a sound-bite policy and are then shot down when the interviewer takes that policy to its logical conclusion.  For example, Neil Findlay had a sound-bite about how his policy as leader of Labour in Scotland would be to get rid of Trident.  However, when taken to its logical conclusion and asked how he would do this if the Labour leader in London decided to renew Trident, he floundered.  He clearly hadn't thought about it.  Similarly when asked about re-nationalising the railways, a simple question about the costs was all it took to derail (sorry) him.

We've seen this before, famously when Johann Lamont was asked to explain Labour in Scotland's policies on further tax powers for Scotland.  It begins to look as if Labour politicians in Scotland are simply parrots, repeating whatever phrase is flavour of the day and has been supplied to them.  Thinkers need not apply.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Back in your box

On the internet comment threads since the referendum there has been a distinct flavour anti-Scottishness.  The comments tend to come in a couple of flavours.

'The referendum result was No, you should just accept it'.  
This tends to come up any time having another referendum is mentioned, as if the last referendum was a one-off which could never be repeated.  The key phrase that comes in here is usually 'the settled will of the Scottish people'.  It's akin to saying 'the Tories won the last General Election so we should just accept the settled will of the British people.'  I can just see Labour supporters agreeing to that one.  There does seem to be a fear of another referendum, possibly because the result of the last one was not a resounding endorsement for the status quo, and so another would not be guaranteed to produce the result that Westminster wants, ie for Scotland to remain in the union.
 
'We can't allow the Scottish tail to wag the Westminster dog'
This one comes up in any discussion of greater powers for the Scottish parliament or of the SNP possibly holding the balance of power if there is no clear winner of the next General Election, which seems quite likely.  There is also a related strain of comments along the lines of 'we can't allow Scots politicians to hold any positions of power at Westminster'.  The thinking behind this one seems to be that Westminster knows best and it's not for Scots to question their decisions.

I asked on one of the comment threads just what was so terrifying about Scottish independence and got this answer:

The fact that it could become a reality on just some pathetic 51% (45% of the electorate) vote? And that it could then oblige EWANI to pay heavily to take back the failed state on its northern land border about 20 years down the line?
I also see nothing wrong with abolishing the Scottish Parliament, should the UK Gov determine that it is being misused etc.
 Hmmm, apparently a 51% result for independence would be pathetic, but a 55% result for staying in the union is a ringing endorsement?  I also love the assumption that rUK would inevitably prosper while Scotland would inevitably fail.  As for that last sentence, I think it encapsulates the typical view of the unionists that Westminster is in charge and no challenge to that is to be tolerated.  And that, I think, gets to the nub of the matter.

I haven't named the particular poster who made that response, as it wouldn't be fair to pick on that person.  However, their response is quite typical of what you can see on comment threads relating to Scottish independence, and is actually quite mild.  Some responses are considerably more vitriolic.

Scottish independence seems to create deep fear amongst the political classes, as they will never willingly give up any part of their power.  We have unsettled them with the last referendum.  Let's keep them on the back foot.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Balance of power

The SNP conference is over, the old leader stepped down and the new leader in place.  From the livestream, we saw a picture of a buoyant, energised party, full of confidence and ready to do whatever it takes to gain Scotland's independence.

Nicola Sturgeon gave her first speech as leader, in which she stated that the SNP would never enter a coalition with the Tories and set out some conditions for supporting a Labour government, such as granting new powers to Holyrood, a rethink on austerity and not placing a new generation of nuclear weapons on the Clyde.

Now here comes the bucket of cold water. There are a number of flaws in this rosy scenario.

One of the SNP's stated aims is to electorally obliterate the Labour party in Scotland in May.  The polls are currently suggesting that this is feasible.  However, the logical extension of this would be why would Labour in London agree to some sort of loose arrangement for support of a minority government with the SNP, if the SNP were the cause of Labour having very few seats in Scotland?  It wouldn't play well with their supporters.

Another factor in play is that the polls at UK level put the SNP and LibDems on very similar percentages.  If these translated into seats, it may well be the LibDems who are being courted again, not the SNP.

I've been participating in a number of online comment threads about the SNP conference over the last two days, and there is a distinct but detectable resentment of the Scots for (a) not shutting up about independence and for talking about another referendum and (b) possibly having power over the English by enabling Labour to push through unpopular legislation.

The first part is an interesting one, and I might explore that in another post, since it's kind of off-topic for this one.

The second part is easily disproved, as the SNP do not vote on England-only legislation out of principle.  This doesn't appear to be well-known south of the border and maybe the SNP should make more of this.  However, this would lead to something of a dilemma for a minority Labour government, as it wouldn't be able to pass legislation on things like health or education without garnering support from elsewhere, and if it can do that, why would it need the SNP?

As for not supporting a new generation of nuclear weapons on the Clyde, I suspect that Labour would be able to garner support from the Tories on that one, as they both appear to need to retain the 'punching above our weight' status thing.  And if that happened, they would also vote to keep them anywhere they pleased.  Since Trident is already on the Clyde, and both parties are keen on austerity, it's highly unlikely they'd spend the money to build another facility for the new ones.

As a member of the SNP, I like the idea of our party having some power at Westminster, of being able to 'hold their feet to the fire'.  However, if we're going to do this, we need to be realistic.  There's a real danger at the moment of the party members becoming complacent, when we really need to fight the next election as if we were bottom of the polls.




Saturday, 15 November 2014

Say hello, wave goodbye

Day 1 of the SNP conference, and the two major topics being reported are Alex Salmond's farewell speech as leader and whether Nicola Sturgeon will call for another referendum on independence.

Mr Salmond's speech was something of a barnstormer,   He reviewed his time as leader of the SNP, citing successes such as free education, the council tax freeze, the introduction of the living wage and the efforts to protect Scots from the bedroom tax.  He reviewed the referendum, and excoriated the Labour party and its role in it.  He praised Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney, citing the latter as 'the only finance minister in Europe to balance the budget'.  He also gave a clear warning to Westminster that the issue of Scottish independence has not gone away, and that any attempt to renege on their promises made in the Vow would result in 'Scotland taking matters into its own hands'.  (Anyone else detect a hint of a potential UDI in that?)  At the end of the speech he received a seven minute standing ovation.

In her first speech as leader Nicola Sturgeon laid out her priorities as leader.  First and foremost she wants to see the promised powers delivered to Scotland.  To ensure this, the SNP needs a strong showing at the Westminster elections in May 2015, something which looks very likely according to the latest polls.  She also said the gaining independence for Scotland was one of the top three priorities for the SNP, but that Yes activists should not look for another referendum in the near future, and that independence could only be won by persuasion such that the next referendum would be successful in gaining a majority for independence.  However, she does see the scenario where England votes to leave the EU while Scotland does not as a possible trigger for another referendum.

Looking through some of the comment threads on this, it's quite amazing how hostile a substantial number of people are to the thought of another referendum and of Scottish independence.  One would have to wonder what it is they fear, given that those same people are generally the ones trotting out the 'subsidy junkie' jibes and loudly proclaiming how Scotland could never manage alone.

Both Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon declared that they are in favour of Yes activists standing under the SNP banner at the general election, which would suggest that a formal Yes Alliance is not on the cards.

Party conferences are very much about preaching to the converted, and both speakers were greeted with rapturous applause.  However, the overall impression from the party conference is one of a party in buoyant, confident mood, quite the opposite of what many of their opponents expected following the referendum defeat.  We definitely live in interesting times.


Friday, 14 November 2014

#ThanksAlex

I remember when I first became really aware of my nationality.  Back in antediluvian times I was about to sit my O grades, and we had to fill in a form.  We were made to sit in a lecture hall while the teachers walked us through the process of filling in the required information.  We came to 'Nationality'.  I was about to fill it in as 'Scottish', but was stopped by a teacher and informed that 'Scottish' was not a nationality, and that I must put 'British'.  I was puzzled.  I was born and lived in a country called Scotland, therefore my nationality was Scottish.  British made no sense to me.

Three years later there was the first referendum on Scottish Devolution. I was very new to the voting process at that point, but I read about the issues and voted Yes.  As history shows, the result of the referendum was a Yes, but due to last minute shenanigans it was disregarded after the implementation of the notorious 40% rule.  It was my introduction to the duplicity of politicians and was something of an eye opener.

In 1997 we got another referendum on whether we should have a Scottish parliament.  Again I voted Yes.  Again we won, but this time the result was accepted and the Holyrood parliament came into being.

Up till that point I had been a Labour voter, in the tradition of my family.  However, politics for me was something that went on in the background and I wasn't a member of any political party or really politically active.

I first really became aware of Alex Salmond as anything other than a name when I saw a party political broadcast from the SNP some time after this.  It consisted of Mr Salmond talking to a group of people.  I don't remember the content of what he was saying, but I remember being struck by how natural he was in talking to people, how he avoided the usual cliches heard from politicians of every stripe.  He impressed me far more than any of the other politicians of the time.

As Holyrood developed, I began to lean more towards the SNP and began to vote for them in all of the elections, local, Scottish and national.  Still, however, I wasn't quite ready to make the move into actual political activism.  The game-changer was, of course, the recent referendum on Independence.

I'd like to thank Alex Salmond for making the referendum possible.  It was unfortunate that Yes didn't win, but I suspect that, in terms of the grand plan, the majority in Holyrood was unexpectedly early.  Had the majority not been won until 2016, I suspect we would have won a subsequent referendum.

I'd also like to thank Alex Salmond for leaving a legacy of politically aware and, in many cases, active ordinary people.  No longer is politics seen in Scotland as an esoteric pastime only enjoyed by a few anoraks.  Instead thousands of people are getting out and trying to make a difference.  Even those who are not active are far more aware of politics and are less likely to simply follow the old traditions.

I hope we haven't seen the last of Mr Salmond.  He's not perfect by any manner of means, but he is head and shoulders above the current crop of party leaders.  Indeed, if rumours are true and he stands for Westminster again, he could be a thorn in the side of Westminster for sometime to come, standing up for the interests of Scotland.  Won't that be a sight to see.

#Thanks Alex


Thursday, 13 November 2014

I see no ships

Prior to the referendum we were promised that the new frigates required by the Royal Navy would only be procured from the last remaining shipyard on the Clyde if Scotland voted NoA Yes vote would mean the end of ship-building in Scotland.  This was debunked at the time by Wings over Scotland, but evidently the 55% preferred to believe the UK government on this and obediently voted No.

So what do we hear yesterday?  The MoD is considering pulling the contract for the new frigates from Scotland and placing it elsewhere, possibly in France.  The comments came from Admiral Zambellas, the head of the Royal Navy, which lends credence to the story, since he's the man with the purse strings.

Today Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, has rushed in to say that the government have not changed policy (ie that complex warships for the Royal Navy can only be built in the UK) and that the frigates will be built on the Clyde regardless of what Admiral Zambellas says.

Well, this makes for a pretty kettle of fish (sorry).  Who to believe?  On balance, I'd say the Admiral has it.  He's the one negotiating with BAe systems on the new frigates, and this looks like part of the negotiating process (ie give me what I want at the price I want or I walk).  The response from Michael Fallon is quite considered - 'we have not changed our policy' - and is basically weasel words.  After all, a policy is generally a guideline, not a commitment, and they will be able to walk away saying that it was their policy but events meant they were unable to follow it - alas!

If the contract does go abroad this will be immensely damaging to the political parties involved in the Better Together-No Thanks campaign, as the ship-building work was one of the key arguments in their case to retain the union.  Losing this work will only make a Yes vote more likely next time, as the scales start to fall from the eyes of the 55%.  And once the scales have fallen from your eyes, as the 45% have found, there's no going back.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Get the frack out of here 2

Mandi Gandhi-Mandibles, a member of the Scottish Green party, received the following e-mail from Gavin Brown MSP in reply to an enquiry from her regarding fracking.  She made the enquiry on 5th October, and received four identical replies on 11th October.

Thank you for your recent email regarding fracking.
The Scottish Conservatives are dedicated to achieving a balanced energy mix
to meet the country’s needs and we believe unconventional gas extraction has a significant role to play in this. Whereas ten years ago the UK was a net exporter of gas, today it has to import 10 billion cubic metres per year. Our shale gas reserves could drive
down domestic and industrial gas prices and help the country to be less at the mercy of volatile foreign markets and often unstable foreign governments.
I note that the UK government’s recent consultation generated a substantial degree of opposition, but the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC) public opinion tracker provides a more accurate gauge of views with only 24% fully opposing
fracking and half neither supporting nor opposing it as of August 2014.

The SNP Government’s recent criticism of Westminster’s approach to fracking
and their call for additional powers to Scotland is no more than political posturing. Planning is already under the Scottish Government’s control and so fracking can only go
ahead with their agreement. The licensing regime for unconventional gas extraction is, and will remain, rigorous requiring input from the DECC, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), planning authorities and in some instances the Coal Authority. I am aware of some local homeowners’ concerns about fracking under or near to their properties, in particular the proposed right to drill to depths of 300 metres under private land without negotiating a right of access has been contentious. However, gas, water and electricity companies already have similar rights and there is no evidence of any harm that would be caused by fracking if properly regulated.

Safety is a top priority for the Government and it is worth noting that the UK has over 50 years of experience in regulating the onshore oil and gas industry. This experience is critical in avoiding risks such as the contamination of water supplies.  Overall, I am confident that fracking will continue to be conducted safely, responsibly and with local interests in mind. I believe it will benefit the country in terms of energy security,  economic growth and jobs creation. 
Kind regards
GAVIN BROWN MSP

Evidently he hasn't read the reports by UKERC released yesterday, which stated that fracking will not make the UK self-sufficient in energy supplies, or indeed any less reliant on  'volatile foreign markets and often unstable foreign governments.'

Sorry Gavin, but the scales have fallen from the eyes of the Yes voters, and we know lying platitudes when we see them.  1/10, would not read again.

Get the frack out of here

A couple of reports have just been published by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC).  The first shows that fracking is not likely to  make the UK self-sufficient in gas and will not end the UK's dependency on gas imports.  The second shows that, by the time the UK would have the fracking industry up and running, gas consumption should be falling in order to meet targets on carbon emissions.

Both of these reports contradict claims by politicians that fracking is the answer to all the UK's energy needs, but they continue to push this line.  Why should this be?  I think the short answer is 'money'.

Fracking is a dangerous process.  There is a simple explanation of what's involved here.  There are numerous documented side effects of the process, including groundwater contamination, earth tremors and radiation being released into waterways.  It also uses vast quantities of water in a world where water resources are starting to come under pressure.  Research is still ongoing in this area.  However, it does not look like fracking is a clean or safe industry at present, and there have to be questions as to whether this could ever be the case.

Here in the UK, the area I live in has large shale deposits.  Indeed it was site of the original oil industry in Scotland,  So it's going to be a target for the fracking companies.

The UK government plans to allow fracking under people's homes without their permission, something that The Scottish Government has condemned.  The SNP themselves are not the fans of fracking that the UK government seem to be, and would want to see a lot more information before allowing a free-for-all in the extraction of shale gas.  Meantime the UK government have already been selling fracking licences for Scotland.  This will be part of the reason the Scottish Government want powers over fracking to be devolved.

Scotland is rich in energy resources, not just in oil but also in hydro-electric, wind and wave-power.  Given this, it makes no sense for us to be involved in such a dangerous and potentially polluting industry.  It's time for us to make a stand against an industry that is hell-bent on making money regardless of the environmental cost.  Find your local group and get involved.  If you don't have a local group, start one.  Let's put a stop to this before it can ruin Scotland.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Excuses, excuses

On Sunday Neil Findlay, one of the candidates for the leadership of Labour in Scotland, said at a meeting that 'Nicola Sturgeon is more interested in destroying Labour than gaining independence'.   Apparently this follows Ms Sturgeon saying that 'she wants the SNP to replace Labour as the party of “social and economic progess” in Scotland'.

Yesterday on Scotland Tonight Katy Clark, one of the candidates for the deputy leadership was heard to declare that, in the context of the forthcoming General Election in 2015, 'it might be Scotland that lets us down' .

Both of these statements show that Labour has learned nothing from the referendum campaign.  They still have a feeling of entitlement to the Scottish vote, a feeling that they shouldn't have to earn those votes, a feeling that they should still be regarded as the only party of social and economic progress.

They have taken Scotland for granted for so long that they no longer seem to know how to persuade the voters to their cause.  They still imagine that 'vote for Labour to keep out the Tories' is the only justification they need for people to vote for them.  They also seem to think that they shouldn't have to compete with any other party.

They are a still blinded by their visceral hatred of the SNP, to the point when they can't see how this is impeding them.  I have news for Mr Findlay.  At Nicola Sturgeon's road show at the Corn Exchange in Edinburgh the Labour party was barely mentioned.

Time to wake up and smell the coffee.  Labour have done themselves immense damage by standing together with the Tories during the referendum campaign, and this will not be easily forgotten.  Unlike in England, we do have alternatives here.

You want Scotland's votes?  Earn them.




Monday, 10 November 2014

All your fault

In yesterday's Scotsman there was an article by Brian Monteith explaining how Labour could yet win the day at the forthcoming General Election.  It was characterised by the kind of wilful blindness we have come to expect from Labour.  For example:
The departure of Johann Lamont has put Labour into a tailspin from which it cannot begin to pull out of until it elects her replacement. Unfortunately for Labour that will take some time, and until then the SNP is able to dominate the Scottish political scene untested – except for sallies by the Scottish Conservatives, who for all the merit of their new discussion paper on education will not figure in the dialectic between Scotland’s two left-of-centre parties.
 Two left-of-centre parties?   The SNP are cetrainly left-of-centre now, but Labour?  They are trying to compete with the Tories and UKIP in southern England, and to do this they have lurched ever further rightwards, to the point where they are promising to continue some of the policies of the Tories if Labour should win the GE in 2015.  They were a left-wing party in the past, but they cannot be described as that now, except as a term used relative to the Tories and UKIP.

It gets worse.
I would offer four reasons why Labour politicians should hold their nerve. Firstly, once Scottish Labour elects its leader it can turn to fight its real enemy, the SNP, and expect some degree of recovery. Secondly, the publication of the Smith Commission proposals will move along the debate about the delivery of those panicky pledges, giving Labour the opportunity to come off the back foot. Thirdly, the alternatives to Miliband make no difference to the polling outcomes. It would be extremely difficult to try and change to another Labour politician this late in the election cycle. It’s not as if there’s a popular Labour figure waiting in the wings. Many are tainted with the causes of the economic catastrophe we are still trying to pull out of and others have no profile and not enough time left to develop one. Fourthly, voting SNP risks creating a Tory government. This will concentrate the minds of Scots who want Labour back in Downing Street.
Let's take this point by point.
  1. Labour in Scotland are still fixated on the SNP, who they have never forgiven for 'stealing' what they regarded as their fiefdom.  And here they are, not coming up with any new policy ideas or painting a picture of how things could be different, but instead simply declaring that, whatever the SNP is for, they're against it. 
  2. The Smith Commission proposals are not likely to to help Labour, since they are unlikely to satisfy any side, being too radical for some and too conservative for others.  Labour's proposals were by far the weakest, so I suspect the outcome will be on the radical side for them, and any attempt to water them down by Labour is not likely to be received well in Scotland.
  3.  Labour is in disarray over both their leaders, and papering over the cracks isn't going to make them electable at the the GE.  'Swing' voters are not going to vote for a party displaying about as much stability as a jelly on a rollercoaster.
  4. 'Voting SNP risks creating a Tory government'.  If all else fails, Labour will try and guilt the Scots into voting for them, despite the fact that it was comprehensively proved by Wings over Scotland that Scotland's votes rarely make any difference to what colour of government the UK gets.  In general, what England votes for, the UK gets.  Two things annoy me about this.  Firstly Labour still feels a sense of entitlement to the Scottish vote.  Effectively they are telling Scots to shut up and get back in their box.  Well, there's a reason why this blog is named as it is - not going to happen post-indyref.  Secondly it shows huge laziness on the part of Labour.  Never mind coming up with some policies that will appeal to the electorate then trying to persuade people of their merits.  Just tell them that if they don't vote for Labour and the Tories get in, it will be all the Scots' fault.  Do I want a Tory government?  No, I think they will wreak further havoc if they get back in with a majority, which seems unlikely.  However, voting Labour isn't the only answer.  A vote for the SNP is looking quite likely to be a vote for the party that will hold the balance of power, which can only benefit Scotland.
Scotland's politics are evolving, and unless Labour can also evolve they are doomed to extinction.  2/10 must try harder.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Britain's Got (No) Talent

Here's a quick quiz.  How many ministers can you name from the following eras?

1. Thatcher
2. Major
3. Blair
4. Brown

Now try the same thing with
1. The coalition
2. The current shadow cabinet

I was thinking about this in the wake of Ed Milliband's mini-reshuffle this week, caused by the resignation of Jim Murphy from his post as Shadow International Development Secretary.  On reading about the people being moved into new positions, my first reaction was 'Who?'.  It was also triggered by the story of David Cameron being presented with an unexpected bill for 1.7 billion from the EU, which he spluttered about not paying.  However, we all knew that we would end up paying it, and sure enough George Osborne announced that we will be doing just that, albeit with a side order of lies about getting the bill reduced by his wonderful negotiating skills.

It seems to me that our current crop of politicians appear not to have a great deal of talent for politics.  Most of them seem to be complete nonentities, placemen/women if you will, owing their place to toeing the party line, voting in obedience to the whips and sticking around long enough.  The debates seem to be more about scoring points against the opposition rather then genuine attempts to solve the issues in front of us, as if  government is simply the sixth-form debating society writ large.  Then we have things like Ed Milliband declaring that he would like to be the first Jewish Prime Minister (presumably he was off the day they studied Benjamin Disraeli).

Maybe I'm just getting old and grumpy ('things were better in my day'), but are these people really the best we can do?

Saturday, 8 November 2014

We need to talk about sectarianism

This week Jim Murphy pledged to repeal  the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 (aka the anti-bigotry law) should he be elected leader of Labour in Scotland and become First Minister of Scotland.  According to Mr Murphy, the law was rail-roaded through by the SNP using their majority, even though all the other parties voted against it, as if Labour would never have done such a thing when in a majority. 

Mr Murphy's case is that the legislation is badly drafted and unfairly singles out football fans.  In neither case is he entirely wrong.  However, the emphasis on football fans is understandable, given that this is one of the most visible ways that people come across bigoted behaviour.

Personally I've never understood religious bigotry.  When I was a child I was taken to church every Sunday and was made to attend Sunday School.  However, I was never aware of the denomination of the church (it was Church of Scotland for the record) and I had no awareness of any other religious affiliations.  It was simply never mentioned.  My first real encounter with it was in a schoolfriend's family, where my friend's sister, brought up in the Protestant tradition, had married a Catholic, and this was a source of some friction in the family.  Indeed it was the first time I ever heard the word 'Pape', and I had no idea what it meant.  Even once it was explained, it didn't make any sense.

Since then, when researching family history for other people, I have come across other cases where families have disowned one of their members for marrying someone from the 'wrong' faith.  I still find it incomprehensible.

I suspect that most people in Scotland are not religious bigots.  Indeed most people are probably not strongly religious and really don't care what religion other people may espouse.  However, there is a sizeable minority who are, and this does need to be tackled.

One of the main ways to do this is through education.  Currently Scotland allows separate denominational schools, most of which are for Catholics, although there are a small number of schools associated with other religious denominations.  This is one thing that I would like to see changed.  In my view, schools should not be associated with any religious denomination.  If religions wish to install a particular ethos in their adherents, this should be done under their own auspices and outwith the school day.  As all schools fall under the control of the Scottish Government, this should not be difficult to arrange.  At the very least this would allow children of different religions to mix and to see that the others are not monsters or sub-humans.

I would also like to see football clubs actively opposing any expression of religion at their games, as it should be in no way relevant to the sport.

Sectarianism has deep roots in Scotland, especially the West of Scotland and a history stretching back to the 17th century, following the establishment of the Ulster Plantation and taking in the 'Glorious Revolution'.  Eradicating it is going to be somewhat akin to ridding your lawn of dandelions - a lot of digging and still they come back.  However, we need to keep at it until all the dandelions are gone. 

Scotland should be ashamed of this stain on its reputation, and we need to get to work to get rid of it sooner rather than later.  The SNP legislation, while not good, is at least a first step.  Rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, perhaps the parties in the Scottish Parliament should be co-operating to look at ways to improve it.



Friday, 7 November 2014

Dear Labour

Dear Labour

There's no easy way to say this, so we'll just come right out with it.  It's over, and it's time for us both to move on.

We started out with a lot of hope and determination to make things better for everyone, and for a long time it worked.  We improved the lot of many people, giving them things such as the NHS, unemployment benefits and a decent education.  We helped lots of our children to reach their full potential and lifted them out of poverty, both financial and of ambition.  We were good together.

Lately, though,  you've been spending a lot more time with your smart friends down south, and you've been more interested with ingratiating yourself with their children, many of whom have a much more individualistic view on life.  Now it's got to the point where our ideas have diverged too far for it to work any longer.  We nearly left you in September, but gave you one more chance to prove you still cared.

We've met someone else.  They're a little younger than you, but they want the same things that we still want.  They've also got other friends who share their ideals.  We're moving on.

Hope things work out for you with your new family.

Scotland

PS, Tell Ed we hope the extraction of the silverware from his back isn't too painful.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Marches and bonfires

'Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot...'

This was the reason why Anonymous chose this date for their Million Mask March, which took place in major cities throughout the world.  There were marches in Edinburgh and Glasgow, which seem to have passed off peacefully, although there does appear to have been some trouble at the London March

Anonymous are an interesting phenomenon.  There are no leaders and very few rules.  Their key characteristics are "(1) an unrelenting moral stance on issues and rights, regardless of direct provocation; (2) a physical presence that accompanies online hacking activity; and (3) a distinctive brand."  Members wear the now famous Guy Fawkes mask, which is probably why most people find them rather sinister.

I have some sympathy with the aims of Anonymous, but I wouldn't wear the mask.  I'm not ashamed or afraid of being a Scottish nationalist and see no reason to hide that I am.

In other Guy Fawkes Night news, the Waterloo Bonfire Society decided that the guy to be placed on top of their bonfire this year would be Alex Salmond.   This came to light when a member of staff at the local council tweeted a picture of one of the effigies passing their offices.  Complaints were made, leading to the withdrawal of the two effigies and an investigation by the police into a racially-motivated hate crime.

I think that last was really an overreaction, giving a bit of silliness far more attention than it deserved.  Certainly Alex Salmond himself took it in good part.  However, the reaction from the Society itself and its supporters appears to have been 'It's just a joke'.  Ah, the clarion cry of bullies everywhere when called out. 

Anyway at least we now know - clearly Nessie is a 'Yessie' ;)

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Leaders and referendums

It would appear that Jim Murphy is the leading candidate for the new leader of Labour in Scotland, at least as far as the MP/MSP/MEP block is concerned in the collegiate system favoured by the Scottish branch, having gained the support of 43 of the members of this voting block.  Kezia Dugdale is the favoured candidate for deputy, with an even bigger number of endorsements.

Labour in Scotland uses the electoral college system of voting for the leader and deputy.  In this case there are three voting blocks: the MPs/MSPs and MEPs, the trades unions and the rank and file members of the party.  However, not all voting blocks are equal, with the vote of one of the various MPs counting for more than a vote from the trades unions or the rank and file members.  There is an explanation here of how it works, albeit it's from the previous leadership election for the UK party.
The procedures have been reviewed and are due to change, but have not yet done so.

If Mr Murphy wins, then there is the question of whether he contests his current seat as an MP in 2015 or stands down and waits until 2016 to stand as an MSP.  Current thinking seems to be that he would stand down as an MP and stand for election as an MSP in 2016.  Given the current state of the polls for 2016 this could be quite risky, given Labour's current low standing, and may result in Mr Murphy's ambition to be First Minister falling at the first hurdle.  However, there is a long time between now and 2016, so things could change quite a lot.

Meantime in Wales, their First Minister, Carwyn Jones, has expressed support for Nicola Sturgeon's policy of adding an amendment to any legislation for an EU in/out referendum to state that a majority must return a vote to leave in each of the four home nations before a BREXIT could be triggered.  This was dismissed by David Cameron previously, when he stated at Prime Minister's Questions that the result should be predicated on a simple majority.  It will be interesting to see any comments from Northern Irish politicians on the subject. 

If the result of the EU in/out referendum was to leave, but with only England having a majority in favour, this could well trigger another referendum on Scottish Independence.  In that case, I think the Unionists could well have a real fight on their hands to retain Scotland in the UK.  Indeed, the effect could well be for England to leave the UK, leaving the celtic nations in the remaining union.  Interesting times indeed!


Tuesday, 4 November 2014

A Game of (Labour) Thrones

I see Jim Murphy has resigned from the shadow cabinet in order to pursue his new career as leader of Labour in Scotland.  He strikes me as being the Roose Bolton of this particular version of Game of Thrones, ruthlessly disposing of rivals on order to become King in the North. The equivalent of the Red Wedding would be the removal of Johann Lamont and Anas Sarwar which allegedly came about as a result of internal feuds.  It's widely rumoured that Margaret Currant, the Cersei Lannister of this particular version of Game of Thrones, will be moved into the vacancy created by Mr Murphy's resignation, something that would be regarded as a demotion for her, just as it was for Mr Murphy.  In the book Cersei spends her time plotting but isn't very good at it and is ultimately side-lined.

The nominations for deputy leader closed yesterday, with only two candidates having come forward: Kezia Dugdale and Katy Clark.  This leaves Sarah Boyack looking unlikely to win the leadership, as she now doesn't have a running mate.  A bit like Lysa Arryn, who spends most of Game of Thrones isolated and without much influence on events.  Let's hope she doesn't come to a political sticky end.

Meanwhile Labour continues its slow collapse, with Alastair Darling and Anne McGuire both announcing that they will stand down at the General Election in May.  Looks like Labour need to remember the Stark motto - Winter is Coming.